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Teach This Mama How to Text!

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"It couldn't be too hard," I thought.

Frustrated woman holding cellphone

Jennifer Ginsberg: I was sitting in my local Starbucks and spying on a group of cute teenage girls at a table in the back. They weren't giggling, or even talking. They were texting -- that ubiquitous form of communication that has taken over our society. I had been wanting to learn how to do this for months, but was confident that, despite my extensive education, I could never really grasp it.

Along with my grandfather's stubbornness, aptitude to hold a grudge for a lifetime, and workhorse ethic, I also inherited his Technological Retardation. He used to get furious at my dad's suggestion that he use a calculator to help balance his books at work. "I don't need those fickockta machines!" Papa would curse, as he counted away on his fingers in Yiddish. Having been born in 1909 in the Old Country, his aversion to the benign calculator was understandable. I was born in 1974 in L.A. -- and it was time to get with the modern age.

Anytime a technological task is presented to me, my first thought is, "I am never going to learn this," and my next thought is, "Where is my husband?" I am fortunate that he happens to be one of the most technologically brilliant people in the world. His constant rescuing of me in these situations is a great relief -- however, it also enables my disorder.

Yesterday he came home and presented me with a gift: a new Mac laptop. "Now you can do your writing anywhere, honey!" he said, beaming as he was taking the machine out of the box.

My heart was beginning to race. "Um ... how long is it going to take for me to figure out how to use it?"

"Under five minutes," he replied, as he always does. He plugged it in, opened it up, and viola, "You are connected!" He was a f*cking magician. "Now you can take your laptop anywhere!"

I was incredulous. "So, you are saying that if I take this to Starbucks, I can just open it up and it will work?" There had to be a catch.

"No. It's simple. It will work at Coffee Bean because they have free WiFi. But Starbucks, which also has a WiFi, is on a secured network -- their WiFi is not free, so you will need to pay. So, unless you pay, you can't use the Internet. Don't worry, your AirPort will automatically connect if you're in a WiFi zone. Of course, you'll still be able to use your laptop. You don't even need to bring the AC adapter if your laptop is charged, but keep it in the car in case you run out of battery." Network? WiFi? AirPort? Automatically connected? AC adapter? God help me.

There was no way I was ever going to get this, so I asked the only question I could think of: "How does Starbucks know whether or not I have paid?" The idea that I could open my wireless laptop and a Starbucks barista, while making my venti iced green tea, would immediately be alerted that I had not yet paid was incomprehensible to me.

"Jen, when you turn on the light switch, how does the light know to go on?" was his snappy reply. He knew he would be walking me through this several times over the next week at Starbucks. Not being a coffee drinker, he wasn't looking forward to this prospect.

So, acknowledging that I needed help was an important first step in recovery from my Texting Angst. I went straight to my babysitter, a 16-year-old girl whose second language is texting. If I was going to learn, I was going right to the top!

After a brief tutorial, I was able to turn a sea of numbers and letters into a text message. It was laborious, and would take some getting used to, but I felt like I was finally part of an exclusive club. I had one question burning away at me that I had to ask: "What is the point? Isn't it easier to just pick up the phone and call someone than spend 10 minutes typing out a message?"

She had no response. Texting was her primary means of connection and social interaction. I was going to need to get with the program.

Once I began doing it, it became quickly addictive, as for me most things do. I loved the way I could text someone without having to actually commit to a phone conversation. The lack of intimacy and emotional accountability was seductive. I could barf out my feelings, then not have to take responsibility for them. If you later asked me why I never texted you back, I could simply say, "My phone died" -- and I was off the hook.

My favorite texting buddy is Lauren. She is in her early 20s and has a Ph.D. in texting. I have learned a lot from her. We have even developed our own acronyms. "Are you hago or habo?" she will text me, usually midday. "Hago" stands for "having a good one," and "habo" means "having a bad one."

"Habo. Very, very habo." I text back. Shane is chasing Kiana and rubbing dirt in her hair.

"Pink or drink?" she will reply, asking me if I would rather meet her for a Pinkberry or a Starbucks later.

"Both!" I respond, as I threaten my son that he will never do anything fun again for the rest of his life if he doesn't leave his sister alone.

As much as I love the elusive connection that texting provides, it is quite a commentary on our society that our communications have been reduced to this. According to my single friends, the days where men will actually call you up on the phone and ask you out on a date are over. It is common to receive texts in the middle of the night from their "suitors." Even the quaint "booty call" doesn't warrant the dignity of a phone conversation!

I suppose if we actually pick up the phone, we have to face the prospect of rejection. Rejection from the other person can take the form of them not being available to talk, or not quite getting to what we have to say. The fact that texting leaves out all the subtleties and nuances of emotion protects us from any potential disappointment. The downside is that true intimacy is impossible to achieve. Perfect for the days when I am indulging in my angst, and not wanting to relinquish my self-pity.

"When will this day end?" I text Lauren on a particularly harrowing afternoon. My husband is out of town and I miss him tremendously. I have been holding back the tears all day, and I am feeling very lonely.

"Not soon enough," Lauren responds, completely validating my experience, but revealing nothing about herself.

The perfect text communication.



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